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Mark Morris | Crime and cluelessness do not pay

Mark Morris
Mark Morris

Hey, kids! If you’re thinking about a life of crime, please reconsider. Crime is a field suited only to wily professionals. And investigators will make short work of an inexperienced amateur.

Case in point: Convicted bank robber Mark McAvinew, 54, who all but ran into the arms of his investigators, caught a nice break from a usually stern federal judge but still appealed, arguing that he really deserved probation.

McAvinew, the co-owner of a heating and cooling service, was in debt to his cocaine dealer in December 2009. So he assumed a disguise — a camouflage knit cap and dark sunglasses — walked into the bank and demanded “all the hundreds, fifties and twenties in the bank drawer,” according to federal court records.

But McAvinew failed to remove his name from the work uniform that he wore to the robbery, according to a recent appeals court ruling.

Surveillance video from a neighboring business also revealed that McAvinew, who left the bank with $3,170 in his pocket, hopped into a white commercial van with a roof rack. Interviewing an employee of a nearby employment agency, investigators learned that the robber was driving a work van from the heating and cooling company.

While a detective and FBI agent nailed down McAvinew’s identity with his business associates, his wife called the TIPS Hotline after seeing her husband’s picture on TV. She later told investigators that she was “100 percent sure” that McAvinew was the robber.

In an interview with investigators later, McAvinew acknowledged robbing the bank to cover his drug debt and $500-a-week cocaine habit.

At sentencing, McAvinew pushed for probation, noting that he hadn’t used a weapon, had solid family support and had an otherwise unblemished criminal record.

Prosecutors asked for a prison sentence, saying it was necessary for its deterrent value if nothing else.

“There is no deterrence if a $3,000 robbery of a bank to fuel a cocaine habit generates a sentence of probation,” wrote David A. Barnes, an assistant U.S. attorney.

U.S. District Judge Dean Whipple, a genial man who can heap buckets of prison time on defendants, sentenced McAvinew to 30 months, the bottom of the range suggested by the federal sentencing guidelines.

Still intent on probation, McAvinew appealed his sentence to a federal appeals court in St. Louis. Judges there deliberated over the case for only a week before handing down their decision on Nov. 21.

“While we may have acted differently, we defer to the district court’s familiarity with this defendant, this crime and the guidelines in general,” the judges wrote. “We cannot say that the district court abused its discretion in sentencing McAvinew. Accordingly, we affirm.”

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